A Little Advice… Travel Around the World Without Flying (One)

Our guest traveler for the next three weeks gets mad props from me for making the commitment to travel around the world without taking a single flight. Michael, from the Go See Write Travel Blog, has traveled around the world over the past year without a single plane ride. I really respect his commitment to feel every footstep of his journey and the his choice to take reduce the carbon footprint of his RTW trip. His year of land and sea travel makes him the perfect person to share key tips over the next three about how to travel without flying – a tip or two each week covering how he’s managed his sans-flying trip  :-)

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One of my primary reasons for taking a trip around the world without flying was because I wanted to get a full appreciation of the size of the world.  After exactly one year on the road without leaving the ground, and still having not made it all around yet, I can say – it’s big.  Really big.  And more amazing that I ever would have imagined.

Decorative chicken buses are the way to travel through Central America, Panama

Decorative chicken buses are the way to travel through Central America, Panama (c) GoSeeWrite.com

Modern plane travel is one of the miracles of modern convenience.  One can get on an airplane in the heart of Middle America one afternoon and wake up the next morning in Germany or China.  These days, you can get to about anywhere in the world from a major city in the States in 24 hours – give or take a few.  I love the ease of it, but at least for me, there is a disconnect there that I wanted to eliminate at least once in my life. I wanted to feel the miles – feel the distance – know that I had actually traveled – and in some sense, earn my first journey around the world.

Most of the tips I could give you about an around-the-world trip without planes would be the same sort of tips you’d normally read about any long trip – websites with good hostel/hotel reviews, key phrases you should learn in a language before you arrive, safety issues, and so on – so instead I will try to make these tips and thoughts more focused on the uniqueness of a ground level circumnavigation.

Overland travel takes longer: Plan for perpetual movement

You move constantly.  Assuming you are traveling on a budget, whether one of time or money, you can’t really stay anywhere for too long.  I originally wanted to try to make it around inside of a year, but it is going to take me about sixteen months as it turns out.  The longest I’ve been able to stay in any one location is roughly a week and I’ve only pulled that off a few times. My stay at most locations is usually about three or four days.  The reason for this is quite simple: ground travel takes a hell of a lot more time than hopping on a plane.

A motorbike in front of a colorful building in Hoi An, Veitnam

A motorbike in front of a colorful building in Hoi An, Veitnam (c) GoSeeWrite.com

As a recent example, I recently had to get from Chiang Mai, Thailand to Hong Kong to catch my freighter to Australia – it took me seven days and I was moving for at least eight hours on each and every one of those seven days.  The same mileage could have been taken care of by about a six-hour plane ride.  A trip similar to mine is going to be primarily about traveling; that is it’s very nature.

One’s Not the Loneliest Number: You Learn About Yourself

You are going to be traveling solo for most of your trip, unless you have a boyfriend/girlfriend/spouse that is as dedicated to your quixotic quest as you.  One of the joys of traveling is meeting people on the road that you get along with and then joining up to travel together for a while.  Unfortunately, there aren’t too many people that are going to be traveling as ‘quickly’ as you are, so that backpacker tradition becomes a lot more difficult to manage.  Your route is also going to be pretty linear and you obviously can’t just hop on a plane and jump over a few countries to hook up with some people you want to see.

San Blas Islands

Michael Hodson in the San Blas Islands (c) GoSeeWrite.com

For a time on this trip, I really wanted to meet up with a few people in Asia, but my times and locations were pretty set, given my freighter’s departure date and places I wanted to see in my limited time, and they couldn’t get away from their obligations (damn the real world) in the time and location window I had available.  The bonus on this front is that you will know yourself better than you have ever imagined – a few hundred hours spent on buses, trains, and boats looking at the sights going by while in your own company tends one towards self-reflection.

It Costs More: Book on Freighters and Cargo Ships

It’s expensive.  People’s initial reaction to my journey is usually a combination of “you never get to see enough of a place” and “well, at least it must be cheap to travel that way.”  The former is true (though I am fine with it – this time).  The latter is far from true.

The easiest way to do the oceanic crossings is by cargo freighter (if you catch the winds right, you might also be able to hitch a ride on a sailboat for a crossing – try www.findacrew.com to sort out possibilities on that front). There are a few travel agents that specialize in booking passages on freighters.  I’ve primarily used Hamish Jamison (Hamish <at> freightertravel <dot>co.nz) – but you can do a google search and quickly come up with the 3 to 4 others who do the same thing.  I understand you can also book directly with the shipping company, but I haven’t researched the logistics since all my passages have been booked already for this trip.

A cargo ship traveling to Capetown from Brazil

A cargo ship traveling to Capetown from Brazil (c) GoSeeWrite.com

In any case, expect to pay approximately 100 Euros a day for passage on a freighter.  Crossing the Atlantic is about a ten-day trip and crossing the Pacific is about double that.  I added Australia and New Zealand to my trip, so there will be four total passages covering about forty days total.  Do the math and you quickly realize that you can buy an entire round-the-world airline ticket with a dozen stops for just the freighter expense alone.

You then have to add the expense of traveling overland everywhere verses just hopping on a plane and getting there quickly.  There have been plenty of legs of this trip that I’ve made via multiple buses or trains that would have cost a fraction of the price, if I’d flown on one of the many low-cost air carriers out there.

Reduce Your Carbon Footprint: Skip the Flights

Last week I talked about overland travel sometimes costing more,  and that’s not to say that it is all negative – I’m unbelievably happy with my journey.  For one thing, air travel is incredibly damaging to the environment. As a general rule, a plane emits about as much CO2 as would every passenger if they drove the same distance in their individual cars.  Additionally, since the airplane is emitting it’s CO2 (and some other pollutants) into the upper atmosphere, there is an additional negative effect.  There is a reward, at least in my eyes, for seeing this much of the world with such a relatively small carbon footprint.  I’m not saving the world or anything of the like, but I get some satisfaction from not using the worst environmental mode of travel out there – the jet plane.

Hanoi Bay in Vietnam

Hanoi Bay in Vietnam (c) GoSeeWrite.com

Feel Each Footstep Round the World & Soak in the Unique Rewards

It’s incredibly rewarding. I’ve enjoyed talking with hundreds of travelers about how and where they are off to and can only try to explain why my particular route and method is satisfying to me.  This is not to claim my trip is any ‘better’ than anyone else’s out there – everyone should do whatever trip they think is right for them (and there ought to be a lot less judgment on the various forums and blogs out there on others’ choices).

That being said, for me, the reward for me in my current ground level view is in getting a complete feel for the enormity of our planet.  Traveler books from decades gone by amaze me – before ATMs, before the internet, before the hostel circuit, before guidebooks, before cell phones and so on and so forth.  Reading books about what they experienced on the road has always fascinated me.  Being the first westerner in some out of the way place in years.  Getting from place to place when that meant much more than just braving the touts and hawkers at a bus station.  The obstacles they had to overcome in most of their journeys are inspiring.

Ushuaia, at the end of the world

Hodson in Ushuaia, at the end of the world (c) GoSeeWrite.com

In comparison to those adventurers, my journey has been relatively easy.  But at least part of the reward for me has been the challenge – I can’t go back in time to The Great Railway Bazaar or some of the other great journeys from years ago, but I experienced at least some of those challenges in my trip this time.

I’m sure there are many, many people who can say they experienced every mile around our great planet on the ground in recent times, but I’m simply happy to be a part of the club.

Thank you so much for putting this information out there Michael – slow travel is so much better for the environment and as you say – you’re feeling every single step of your journey! Cheers, and I look forward to following your travels :-) Check out his other tips for flightless travel from the past two weeks!

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34 Responses to A Little Advice… Travel Around the World Without Flying (One)

  1. ShannonOD January 26, 2010 at 9:55 am #

    You have me sold now on these two books. One of the two will likely be the
    first that I start out with when I leave! I had a really depressing book at
    the beginning of my last travels, and it was not great – I am all for the
    laugh out loud funny :-) Thanks for the detailed rec Troy!

  2. foggodyssey January 25, 2010 at 6:41 pm #

    Shannon- The first two books (Goliath Expedition & Don't Tell Mom…) are such sweet books to read. If you read anything at all while traveling, I would pack those two with you when ya leave out. They are perfect books to read while sitting on a bus, train or plane. You won't get bored with them and their both ALL TRUE!

    I picked up the “Don't Tell Mom…” book in Brisbane at the airport when i was flying back to Dubai. The title was what grabbed me and since it was non-fiction I thought I would give it a go. I was laughing so hard in the terminal, waiting on my flight, that people thought something was wrong with me. I had it read by the time we got to Dubai and didn't sleep a wink because so. :)

  3. mobilelawyer January 25, 2010 at 3:28 am #

    Well — I just got off my third freighter — this one from Australia to NZ. The last one back home is going to be the biggie — 20 days. If anyone has any direct questions for me on these series of posts — email me at michaelshodson@yahoo.com — not the gmail address on my blogspot. Thanks, Michael

  4. mobilelawyer January 24, 2010 at 8:28 pm #

    Well — I just got off my third freighter — this one from Australia to NZ. The last one back home is going to be the biggie — 20 days. If anyone has any direct questions for me on these series of posts — email me at michaelshodson@yahoo.com — not the gmail address on my blogspot. Thanks, Michael

  5. ShannonOD January 20, 2010 at 8:49 pm #

    That's definitely tough when your specific train route doesn't have good
    stops – but it is probably worth a second look to check if there's a chance
    you could train it on shorter distances instead of flights! :-)

  6. Angela January 20, 2010 at 9:31 am #

    I'm so used to taking the plane that when I need a train I panic! I so would like to travel more often by train, but I think in Europe they are not very well organised, or at least, I never find the connection that suits my needs! Maybe I need to sort my priorities first ;-)

    • ShannonOD January 21, 2010 at 3:49 am #

      That's definitely tough when your specific train route doesn't have good
      stops – but it is probably worth a second look to check if there's a chance
      you could train it on shorter distances instead of flights! :-)

  7. Angela January 20, 2010 at 2:31 am #

    I'm so used to taking the plane that when I need a train I panic! I so would like to travel more often by train, but I think in Europe they are not very well organised, or at least, I never find the connection that suits my needs! Maybe I need to sort my priorities first ;-)

  8. T-roy January 19, 2010 at 6:00 pm #

    here is a book by Jeff Greenwald called “The Size of The World” that he wrote about his travel around the world never taking a flight. It a fun read and you can really connect with his frustrations (esp when he was in the Middle East) about issues with land transportation only.

    I did a blog post about it on my website and you can check it out below:
    http://www.foggodyssey.com/2009/07/05/real-trav

    • ShannonOD January 19, 2010 at 6:03 pm #

      That is definitely one I will add to my list of books to pick up if I see them :-) I also love those other books in the post! If I was going to stay home for a bit longer I would add several of these to my library queue! Thanks for the rec T-Roy :-) (& sorry if you get this response twice – something crazy was going on w/my comments system :(

      • foggodyssey January 26, 2010 at 1:41 am #

        Shannon- The first two books (Goliath Expedition & Don't Tell Mom…) are such sweet books to read. If you read anything at all while traveling, I would pack those two with you when ya leave out. They are perfect books to read while sitting on a bus, train or plane. You won't get bored with them and their both ALL TRUE!

        I picked up the “Don't Tell Mom…” book in Brisbane at the airport when i was flying back to Dubai. The title was what grabbed me and since it was non-fiction I thought I would give it a go. I was laughing so hard in the terminal, waiting on my flight, that people thought something was wrong with me. I had it read by the time we got to Dubai and didn't sleep a wink because so. :)

        • ShannonOD January 26, 2010 at 4:55 pm #

          You have me sold now on these two books. One of the two will likely be the
          first that I start out with when I leave! I had a really depressing book at
          the beginning of my last travels, and it was not great – I am all for the
          laugh out loud funny :-) Thanks for the detailed rec Troy!

  9. ShannonOD January 19, 2010 at 12:02 pm #

    I'm really jealous of your trip on the Transmongolian – it's on my bucket list to do it really slowly and explore along the way :-) You're right though, it adds a bit of excitement to the traveling when you add in a variety of it all, rather than the easiest point from A to Z :-)

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  11. ShannonOD January 19, 2010 at 11:03 am #

    That is definitely one I will add to my list of books to pick up if I see them :-) I also love those other books in the post! If I was going to stay home for a bit longer I would add several of these to my library queue! Thanks for the rec T-Roy :-) (& sorry if you get this response twice – something crazy was going on w/my comments system :(

  12. rachelcotterill January 18, 2010 at 9:14 pm #

    I love taking different modes of transport (our last few holidays have involved bicycles, ferries, cars, and trains, as well as aeroplanes). When we took the transmongolian railway, I was actually surprised at how little time it took to get from western Russia to eastern China on the train…

    • ShannonOD January 19, 2010 at 7:02 pm #

      I'm really jealous of your trip on the Transmongolian – it's on my bucket list to do it really slowly and explore along the way :-) You're right though, it adds a bit of excitement to the traveling when you add in a variety of it all, rather than the easiest point from A to Z :-)

  13. Adam January 18, 2010 at 6:11 pm #

    Can't wait to read more about overland travel! I think the best part of traveling this way is the fact that not only do you get stories from your destinations, but from your way of getting TO those destinations.

    • ShannonOD January 19, 2010 at 5:14 pm #

      That's so true. Some of my best stories are the overnight bus rides with
      midnight border crossings in the freezing cold! :-) It really does add to
      the experience if you're on a more adventurous mode of transport than an
      airplane!

  14. Nomadic Chick January 18, 2010 at 6:41 pm #

    Thanks for this Shannon! I've been waiting eagerly. Overland does take a while, but I prefer that over flying everywhere. It just feels right, and the people I've met or events I encountered – you just don't get on an airplane.

    • ShannonOD January 19, 2010 at 5:15 pm #

      Glad that you're enjoying the post – his tips next week give a bit more of
      the specifics on how he's managed this trip without the plane flights, and
      what sites/people he used to book trips :-)

  15. rachelcotterill January 18, 2010 at 2:14 pm #

    I love taking different modes of transport (our last few holidays have involved bicycles, ferries, cars, and trains, as well as aeroplanes). When we took the transmongolian railway, I was actually surprised at how little time it took to get from western Russia to eastern China on the train…

    • ShannonOD January 19, 2010 at 10:15 am #

      Glad that you're enjoying the post – his tips next week give a bit more of
      the specifics on how he's managed this trip without the plane flights, and
      what sites/people he used to book trips :-)

  16. Adam January 18, 2010 at 11:11 am #

    Can't wait to read more about overland travel! I think the best part of traveling this way is the fact that not only do you get stories from your destinations, but from your way of getting TO those destinations.

    • ShannonOD January 19, 2010 at 10:14 am #

      That's so true. Some of my best stories are the overnight bus rides with
      midnight border crossings in the freezing cold! :-) It really does add to
      the experience if you're on a more adventurous mode of transport than an
      airplane!

  17. Nomadic Chick January 18, 2010 at 11:41 am #

    Thanks for this Shannon! I've been waiting eagerly. Overland does take a while, but I prefer that over flying everywhere. It just feels right, and the people I've met or events I encountered – you just don't get on an airplane.